MATTHEW DALE JANSON's colorful, textured sculptures combine traditional art materials with found objects and industrial materials to create delicately-balanced abstractions of the body, both human and animal. In 2010 and 2012, he was a finalist for the Sondheim Prize and is currently a nominee for the 2012 Baker Artist Awards. Matthew lives in Baltimore, MD.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Your material lists are always very detailed, almost like you are making sure all the materials get credit for their role in your sculptures. Can you talk about materiality in general and why you choose the materials you choose?Matthew Dale Janson: Sometimes I choose an object for its name, its sound, its meanings, or its form and color as it relates to its possible meanings. Basically I’m sentimental and concerned with an object’s history as I understand it and imagine it to be interpreted by my audience. Foucault talks about an author as being a kind of barrier or a gatekeeper, someone who chooses what not to let in rather than someone who generates what goes in. Making long kitchen-sink lists of materials is a kind of perverse authorship. How do we accept certain concepts while saying no to others? It’s important when we seem so created by what we are not. A meaning means what it means by not meaning what it does not mean.
OPP: Do you generally have a vision of what the sculptures will look like before you start? Or do they shift and change as you are working?MDJ: I know how I want something to feel, and I also know that that is a rare feeling which requires a lot of patience. I owe much of that ‘knowing’ to my painting background and to many of the artists I’ve met.
Time is so present in a painting, and that makes it immensely difficult to ‘do.’ I think life can be boiled down to one question: “what I am I going to do next?” Painting takes the question on like a bull. I try to paint in three dimensions.OPP: So, you started out as a painter? What led to the switch from 2D to 3D?
MDJ: I never really switched. I just stopped showing my paintings about four years ago. I felt my sculptures were much stronger and my voice much clearer. Right now I’m working on some new paintings which look like they may take shape as a full body of work. Some are on canvas but most are ‘non-traditional’ paintings using foam, a variety of supports and paints.
shredded currency, foam, paint, unicorn feathers, steel, glass container top, fake fur, unicorn tail, plastic bag, glue, pad-lock (locked), and some chain links (cut)
25" x 22" x 19"
OPP: Many works are abstractions of the figure, and those that aren't still have a visceral quality. The sinews of the polystyrene evoke the body, but the colors and textures of the materials destabilize that. I'd love to hear your take on this pairing of the plastic and the man-made with the visceral.MJ: They seem more and more impossible to divide. I often think about the Body Worlds exhibit. It originated in Europe by a German artist, but, when the show came to the States, it went straight to our science museums. It was made educational, complete with an anti-smoking message right before the exit. The artist stripped away the decay of the human body and replaced it with plastic, and we looked at it as death. But it was a carnival and a strange cultural event both here and in Europe.
OPP: In your online public application for the 2012 Baker Artist Awards, a fund which supports Baltimore's artists, you say you think of your project as "shopping at Walmart to make religious statuary." Could you expand on this?MDJ: I have trouble imagining a reality without religion. Some days I’m agnostic and some days atheistic, but I see religion everywhere. For me Art is another religion, and it’s easier to believe in than the Abrahamic religions or any religion with clear separatist logic. I prefer that kind of logic to remain murky. I always felt like a ‘religious person.’ It’s just harder to know what that is without a rulebook. And I want Dow Chemical to sponsor my Church of Difficult Art.
OPP: Was there ever a time when you made a drastically different type of work than the work that's currently on your website?MDJ: My work has always been a singular project in my mind. It’s been a way for me to explore my mind. And I hope it’s drastically different in the future.